'Jem and the Holograms' good for tweens
I’m not going to lie. “Jem” was a beloved part of my childhood, so when I heard a live-action movie was being made based off the 1980s Hasbro-based cartoon — which I’m not ashamed to say I would race home from school many days to watch — I hoped for the best.
Then I saw the first trailer promoting the movie, and I was left reeling, but not in a good way. Where was Synergy? Where were The Misfits? Why was Jem suddenly a teenage girl living with Molly Ringwald?! The whole thing looked truly, truly outrageously awful and nothing like the cartoon I had adored.
Now that I’ve seen the actual movie, I have mixed emotions. On one hand, the movie is better than that trailer led me to believe it would be. The problem is, it’s not better by much, but that’s coming from the perspective of an '80s kid who wanted to be Jem when she grew up.
Now, this is what has me so conflicted. The little girls in my screening of this movie seemed to love it, which made me reconsider my opinion of the whole thing before I wrote this.
“Jem and the Holograms” begins in a modern-day small town with Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples), who lives with her younger sister Kimber, her two foster sisters, Aja and Shana, and her aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald). Jerrica is a wallflower who doesn’t understand why her generation is so willing to give up its privacy through social media. She only agrees to perform her music in front of a camera in disguise, as a pink-haired character she creates called Jem, but she loses her nerve and doesn’t post it to YouTube. Her sister does, and suddenly, Jem is a YouTube sensation everyone is clamoring to learn more about. Erica Raymond, CEO of Starlight Enterprises, offers Jem a recording deal. Jerrica is reluctant and only accepts because her aunt is having financial difficulties. Plus, she only agrees to the deal if her sisters can come along as her band, hence The Holograms are born.
While the trailer left out all mention of Synergy, the hologram robot that transformed Jerrica into Jem in the cartoon, I’m happy to report there is a subplot featuring Synergy after all. It’s nothing like the cartoon though, and to be honest, the movie shares little in common with the cartoon plot I remember and loved. Instead of Jerrica being the heiress to Starlight Enterprises and a smart businesswoman when she’s not a mega rock star as Jem, she’s an insecure teenager struggling to find her voice. I could go on, but I won’t.
Instead, I’ll focus on the positives, and surprisingly, there are several nods I’ll give to this movie. “Jem and the Holograms” will get a lot of flack from people like me who grew up with the original series and have high expectations for a movie version. The reality is, we’re not the audience filmmakers seem to be targeting. It’s targeting today’s young girls who grew up on “Hannah Montana” with no clue “Jem” was that character’s predecessor. You know what? That’s OK.
“Jem and the Holograms” is a mostly wholesome family film at its core, and young girls will probably love it if they give it a chance.
For what it’s worth, I think the movie does a good job at honoring many of the positive messages of the ’80s series for a new generation, including female empowerment, family, honesty and integrity. At the heart of it is a great message for young audiences — dare to dream, find your voice, and use your gifts for good. It also makes a strong statement that nothing is more important than family.
Taken as a “Jem” movie, it’s easy to criticize. Taken as a female empowerment movie about a unique family who’s always there for each other — featuring some pretty catchy music, if I’m honest — “Jem and the Holograms” isn’t so bad. I’d even recommend it to moms looking for a matinee outing with their daughters, 10 and older.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of the cartoon like I was, stay through the end credits for an extra scene that will make you smile and sort of hope for a sequel. Maybe.
“Jem and the Holograms” is rated PG for thematic material, including reckless behavior, brief suggestive content and some offensive language. It opens in theaters nationwide Oct. 23.